A forgotten classic
Autumn is important for us eaters (and drinkers). That’s when farmers rush to harvest crops before the first frost. Then they take those crops to market—which is how the rest of us get fed.
Earth’s natural satellite (aka the moon) even helps celebrate the harvest: Every autumn we enjoy a particularly notable full moon called the “Harvest Moon” (more on that in the Notes).
Here in the US, some of autumn’s bounty traditionally has been distilled into applejack—a hard cider made from North American apples. And applejack just happens to be used in a classic cocktail called the Harvest Moon. Appropriate, don't you think?
Many of today’s imbibers have never tasted a Harvest Moon Cocktail. If you’re among them, get ready for a treat. Just mix up one of these gems, and you may be dancing by the light of the moon.
Recipe: The Harvest Moon Cocktail
We learned about this drink from Robert Hess’s wonderful cocktail website, Drink Boy. Hess also has a video in which he shows how to mix this drink—and goes into a bit more detail about how he discovered it.
Hess found a reference to this drink while browsing the December 1934 issue of Esquire magazine. He saw an article listing the “Top 10” cocktails of the year. It featured classics like the Old-Fashioned and the Daiquiri. But it also included a drink called the Harvest Moon, which was described as an “applejack sour with orgeat.” It didn’t include a recipe, though. Bummer.
Hess (a renowned cocktail expert) had never heard of the drink, and he couldn’t track down the original recipe—or even discover how the drink got its name. So being the resourceful (and thirsty) imbiber that he is, Hess decided to reverse engineer the drink based on the information he had.
Our recipe is based on the one Hess devised. We substitute lemon juice for the lime he specifies (we think it makes a better drink). You may want to try it both ways though, and see which you prefer.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 1½ ounces applejack (see Notes)
- ½ ounce orgeat (see Notes)
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice (we much prefer lemon; Hess specifies lime)
- lemon twist or slice for garnish (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted and the drink is thoroughly chilled (about 20 seconds).
- Strain the contents of the shaker into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish with a slice or twist of lemon, if you wish. Serve and enjoy.
- The only brand of applejack that’s readily available in the US is one made by Laird & Company. You’ll most often see the 80-proof version. But if you have a chance to buy their bonded (100 proof) version, do so—the flavor is superior.
- If you can’t find applejack, you can use French calvados (which is essentially brandy made from apples). It’s an excellent (albeit pricey) substitution.
- Orgeat is a sweet syrup that’s flavored with almonds and orange or rose water. Many liquor stores carry it these days. It’s also available online (Google is your friend here). Torani is one brand of orgeat that tends to be widely available and of decent quality.
- If you can’t find orgeat, check the coffee aisle at your supermarket for almond syrup (a popular flavoring). Although almond syrup doesn’t contain orange/rose water, its flavor is very similar to orgeat.
- Why shake this cocktail? Because it helps make the drink cold. But more importantly, it helps thoroughly integrate all the ingredients, particularly the citrus juice. When a drink contains citrus, it’s difficult to incorporate just by stirring.
- Astronomically speaking, a “Harvest Moon” is the full moon that occurs nearest the autumnal equinox (which rolls around in September in the northern hemisphere, March in the southern).
- What’s special about a Harvest Moon? Well, a full moon always rises around the time the sun sets. Then as the phase wanes, the moon typically rises about 50 minutes later each night (that’s approximate, depending on your latitude). But around autumnal equinox, because of the moon’s orbital path, it rises only about 30 minutes later for several days. And because it rises early in the evening, there’s an abundance of conveniently timed moonlight—which is helpful for those working late to get in the harvest.
- In parts of China, the Harvest Moon is celebrated by eating mooncakes (a round pastry often filled with red beans or lotus seed paste).
- A Japanese video game called Harvest Moon lets you role play at farm simulation.
- There’s also a song by Neil Young called (drum roll) “Harvest Moon.” And if you know it, you’ve probably got the song playing in your head right now. Sorry about that.
“Mmmm, really love the Harvest Moon,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping her cocktail. “But that song!”
“Great drink,” I agreed. “But what do you mean about the song?”
“Um, well ’Come a little bit closer,’” sang Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “’Hear what I have to say.’ . . . I can’t get the blasted thing out of my mind!”
“No problem,” I said. “We could just have another drink. Then, ‘Just like children sleepin', We could dream this night away.’”
“Stop that!” Mrs K R said. “You’re making it worse!”
“Sorry,” I said. “Couldn’t resist.”
“And I can’t resist this drink,” said Mrs K R, draining her glass. “So I like the idea of another one.”
“Sure thing,” I said. “But hey . . .’there’s a full moon risin’, let’s go dancin’ in the light.’”
That’s when Mrs K R wadded up her cocktail napkin and threw it at me.
I can take a hint.
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